State Water Board Proposes Adjustments to Emergency Conservation Regulation


State Water Board Staff Proposes Adjustments to Emergency Conservation Regulation; Governor Issues Executive Order on Long-Term Conservation

May 9, 2016 |
The State Water Resources Control Board released a staff proposal today to modify the existing emergency water conservation regulation to reflect improved conditions and allow for more local decision making. The proposal was released in conjunction with an executive order issued by Gov. Jerry Brown outlining long-term water conservation measures aimed at achieving a top priority in the California Water Action Plan – making conservation a way of life.

State Water Board Proposal

The State Water Board’s staff proposal would replace the existing state-imposed mandatory conservation standards with locally developed standards based on local conditions and supply availability. It would require local urban water agencies to self-certify their water supply availability assuming three additional dry years and customer demands based on 2013 and 2014 averages. Local agencies would determine the combination of conservation, alternative supplies and other strategies needed to assure adequate supply over that time.

The proposal also would require both urban water suppliers and wholesale suppliers to report the underlying basis for their water supply assessments and require urban water suppliers to continue reporting conservation levels on a monthly basis.

If approved by the State Water Board on May 18, the amended regulation would take effect June 1 and remain in effect through January 2017.

The proposal reflects extensive comments and input from ACWA and water agencies at an April 20 workshop in Sacramento, where ACWA staff and local water managers from throughout California advocated for increased local control of conservation efforts based on local supplies and an adjustment to the existing emergency conservation regulation due to improved conditions in some areas. ACWA’s April 14 comment letter submitted as part of that workshop is here.

In a call with reporters, State Water Board Chair Felicia Marcus said that winter rains have provided somewhat of a “reprieve” to drought conditions in some parts of the state. To reflect these less severe conditions, and to acknowledge varying water supplies throughout California, State Water Board staff is proposing altering the current emergency water conservation regulation to make it less of a “blunt instrument,” said Marcus.

Local water agencies would be required to file their supply assessments and targets with the state. The state would then monitor to see that those targets are met.

“They get more local control, and we get more transparency,” said Marcus.

The proposed regulatory package and a fact sheet on the proposed changes to the emergency water conservation regulation are available on the State Water Board’s website.

Governor’s Executive Order on Long-Term Conservation

The governor’s executive order, B-37-16, directs the California Department of Water Resources to work with the State Water Resources Control Board to develop new water use targets as part of a permanent framework for urban water agencies. The targets will build on existing law requiring the state to achieve a 20% reduction in urban water use by 2020.

While the new targets will be tailored to local conditions, the order directs DWR to consider indoor residential per capita water use, local outdoor irrigation needs and climate, commercial, industrial and institutional water use and water lost through leaks and issue a proposed draft framework by Jan. 10, 2017.

Additionally, the order:
Directs DWR to take actions to minimize water system leaks statewide;
Directs DWR to strengthen standards for local Water Shortage Contingency Plans, including common statewide standards and requirements that plans assume droughts lasting at least five years, as well as more frequent and severe periods of drought;
Directs DWR to work with the California Department of Food and Agriculture to update and require Agricultural Water Management Plans by water suppliers with more than 10,000 irrigated acres of land;
Continues current bans on wasteful water use such as hosing off sidewalks, driveways and other hard surfaces; and
Directs the State Water Board to develop a new proposal for mandatory water use reductions in 2017 should the drought persist.
DWR Director Mark Cowin said strengthening water shortage contingency plans as proposed would create a “playbook” tailored to local agencies to deal with future shortages.

“At the end of the day, we want all communities to be better prepared for the long term, to think ahead to what they will do if we are faced with water shortages in the future. Details remain to be worked out, but the goal is to come up with enforceable standards that reflect the value of water in California,” Cowin said.

Marcus called the executive order a welcome development.

“We didn’t get the Godzilla of El Niño winter storms, but we did get the Godzilla of all wakeup calls,” she said. “It’s what will happen in future years with climate change. We learned a lot about how to do it (this year). The governor’s executive order gives us a roadmap and appropriate direction to use water more efficiently and plan for longer, more frequent droughts than the shorter cycles of the past.”

The full text of the executive order can be found here.

Next Steps and Questions

ACWA Executive Director Timothy Quinn called today’s developments promising and expressed appreciation and support for the governor’s executive order and State Water Board proposal.

“It’s clear that the Brown Administration and the State Water Board have been listening and learning – as we all have – during this drought and the constructive policy discussion this year,” Quinn said. “We applaud the decision to move discretion for drought management back to local agencies.”

ACWA will continue to work closely with DWR and the State Water Board to develop an effective framework for implementing the outlined policy goals.

ACWA member agencies with questions may contact ACWA Special Projects Manager Dave Bolland at (916) 441-4545 or

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